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Attitudes adjust in Prospect Heights toward Atlantic Yards: concern still high, but clearly diminished (and newcomers worry less)

One thing sure to come up on my Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park walking tour Friday is the changing passions/feelings toward the project, and the varying perceptions and perspectives.

A recent report from the Intersection | Prospect Heights project, We’re All Part of the Neighborhood--which I previously wrote about regarding rising neighborhood incomes and changing concerns--suggests attitudes have moderated toward Atlantic Yards but significant concerns remain. As noted below, unlike in the past, it's newcomers who may be more enthusiastic toward the project.

Intersection | Prospect Heights is a project of the consultancy Buscada, the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC), and the Brooklyn Public Library.

Concern, but diminished

While the survey results, with 508 participants, aren't scientific, it's certainly plausible that fears have subsided--the project has taken far longer than planned, and impacts have been attenuated given the slow buildout, the smaller-than-anticipated arena, and the smaller-than-anticipated number of basketball fans driving from New Jersey to see Nets games.

(Even within the neighborhood, some of those living closest to the project site, understandably, have the most immediate worries, such as those describing "shitshow corner." That level of frustration isn't quite captured in surveys.)

As noted in the graphic below, the number who said they were "very concerned" was cut nearly in half, and the total of 'very concerned" and "concerned" has dropped from 82% to 67%, compared with a 2004 survey with 366 participants.

Significant impacts for which respondents expressed specific concern in 2016 were:
  • Increased traffic (82%)
  • Displacement of businesses due to increased real estate cost (75%)
  • Development will be out of scale (75%)
  • Impact of estimated 10 years additional construction (73%)
  • Displacement of residents due to increased housing cost (70%)
  • Development will threaten community character (69%)
  • Impact on public transportation system (67%)
The new population coming

The new population from Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park will add significantly to the population, though there are serious doubts that the 6,430 apartments in the project will, in fact, be completed by 2025, as the developer announced unspecified delays and a financial model through 2035.

Still, that would mean some 13,500 new residents and a 71% increase in the neighborhood's population, from approximately 20,228 in 2014 to 34,519 by 2025 (or, likely later).

It's all perspective

One person quoted in the new report says, "“You know that huge building going up down Vanderbilt, it’s going to have 278 apartments? That’s like a thousand people. The traffic on Vanderbilt is already insane."

Actually, the 550 Vanderbilt condo tower, at 202 feet (plus 40 feet for mechanicals) is mostly studios and 1-bedrooms, so it's more likely that the population would be in the range of 700 people. How they use vehicles--or require vehicles to service their building and their needs--remains unclear.

As I've written, 550 Vanderbilt, at right in the image below, would be one of the least huge buildings in the project. In other words, perceptions will continue to change.

About those 2004 results

The now-defunct Atlantic Yards supporter BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development) took aim at the 2004 survey results, arguing in a press release that only 2% of the community were polled, and those responding were mostly white, well-off, and well-educated, compared with the neighborhood as a whole. BUILD also noted that more than half of the respondents had lived in the neighborhood five years or less.

However, according to Gib Veconi of the PHNDC, those behind the survey met with BUILD before that press release and went over the survey results cross-tabbed by race and income, which had not been included in the report prepared by the Pratt Center for Community Development.

The data suggested that the attitudes toward the Atlantic Yards project were generally consistent in the neighborhood. There were modest but clear differences by race, income, and tenure in the community--not enough to say Prospect Heights supported Atlantic Yards, but enough to understand why project supporters gained adherents.

At the time, BUILD professed itself to be "mystified... by the misleading questions that don'’t properly reflect the entire scope of the project, including job creation, affordable housing and health programs for the community."

Today, an accurate accounting of job creation, affordable housing, and health programs--assuming the promised Independent Compliance Monitor would evaluate the Community Benefits Agreement--might be sobering.

Attitudes by race, 2004

The chart below, for example, shows more than 80% of white respondents reporting they were "very concerned" or "concerned," while more than 60% of black respondents felt the same way. A small--but larger--segment of black respondents were indifferent, while more than 20% felt "good" or "very good" about the project, while more than 10% of white respondents felt similarly.

Attitudes by income, 2004

The chart below is not as consistent as you might expect, which may have to do with the number of respondents. The cohorts with the most positive attitudes--albeit with only about 20% positive--were those with the least and the most income. That said, large majorities expressed concern.

Attitudes by tenure in the neighborhood, 2004

Indeed, 90% of those with five years or fewer in the neighborhood said they were "very concerned" or "concerned," while at least 20% of longer term residents felt good or very good about the project.
Attitudes by tenure today

Interestingly enough, that flips today. As shown in the graphic below, some 40% of the most recent arrivals feel "very good" or "good," which is about the same percentage as those feeling "concerned" or "very concerned." The level of concern increases as tenure increases.

As Veconi noted in a message to me, "Twelve years later, it appears that people with higher household income are in fact less likely to be concerned about Atlantic Yards, as are people who have moved to Prospect Heights more recently."

Why? Veconi suggests it may be "because the more recent arrivals are drawn to what the neighborhood is becoming," which he wrote about in a 10/22/12 essay for Patch, describing a post-gentrification process.


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